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Hope and Cookies

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Crouched behind an array of bushes and shivering from the bitter air, Luna peered at the open clearing. The house was tucked snugly in between slim shoots of tree trunks. Shadows slanted across the clumsy rows of the coarse wooden logs, and the worn dirt path in front of the door was illuminated by a beam of silvery silent moonlight. To both sides, lofty trees whistled nonchalantly in the cool, quiet air. And just beyond the house was the gleaming, iron-tipped gate, its thick metal bars stretching so high up and planted so firmly together that there was no hope of ever passing through.

Unless you were to knock on the witch’s door. Or so the rumors said.

Luna glanced longingly at the indistinguishable lands beyond the gate. Gathering her courage and strength, she awkwardly pushed herself up from the gnarled ground. Her sneakers crunched fleetingly as they rustled a pile of frail leaves. Stepping into the moonlight without allowing herself room for doubt, she quickly approached the carved wooden door. Lifting a clenched fist, she mustered a tiny, brittle knock.

“Come in,” a strange voice replied easily. Luna shifted nervously, and when no further response came from inside the house, she slowly gripped the tarnished brass knob and twisted it open. The door swung backwards with a faint, echoing squeal.

Yellow light flooded towards Luna as she took a timid step into the house, the wooden planks creaking slightly under the weight of her sneakers. The first thing she saw was a line of bookshelves, crammed tightly with words as they snaked around the left interior. Turning to the right, Luna found herself staring at an old woman seated comfortably at a small, rounded wooden table. In the background, the aroma of cinnamon drifted from a dark corner that appeared to be sheltering a stove.

“Oh, close the door if you don’t mind,” the woman said, her eyes and fingers focused on thin, black blocks scattered about the table. No, not just blocks—dominoes. They were dominoes. Luna turned away and carefully closed the door. Her fingers hovered uncertainly after releasing the knob, wondering if she ought to latch the door shut.

“Don’t worry about the latch, dearie.” The old woman’s dry voice startled Luna’s thoughts. “I’d be surprised if anyone else is able to find this shack in the middle of nowhere.” She gave way to a brittle laugh, bobbing her head closer to the pile of dominoes. “No, nobody else is coming here tonight. Leave that door alone, dearie, and come sit down.” The woman finally looked up to pat the space opposite her side of the table, and Luna examined her curiously.

If witches were supposed to be scraggly with missing teeth and distorted bones, then this woman was not a witch. Even with her rough voice and odd assortment of layered clothing, she looked more like an odd, slightly frazzled grandmother. Her thin white hair was tucked into a bun at the nape of her neck, with wisps flying loose everywhere. Stepping closer to her, Luna noticed that her brown eyes were shining bright, reflecting her expression of genuine kindness.

“Sit down, sit down,” invited the old woman, gesturing to the only other chair at the table. “Are you cold, dearie? I’m baking something in the oven. Should be ready in a few minutes. It’ll warm you up, I guarantee you. Do you want something to drink? Cocoa? I’m making some right now.”

Luna cautiously eased herself into the creaky, parched wooden chair. “I—I’m fine. Thank you. But actually, I’m here because—”

“Oh, I know, dearie,” the old woman interrupted with a laugh, her fingers fiddling with the dominoes once more. “You runaways are all the same. Looking for the land on the other side of that gate.” She nodded emphatically as she fumbled over the dominoes and finally picked one up. “Oh, yes, you runaways are all the same.”

Luna watched the old woman balance the domino so that it stood up on the table. “Are—are there a lot of runaways?” she asked conversationally.

"Oh, yes.” The old woman pushed the pile closer to Luna. “Help me line these up, dearie.” She gestured to the standing domino expectantly. Luna nervously reached out for a domino, her fingers grazing the scratched black surface, and stood it up beside the first one.

A long silence passed as Luna slowly balanced the dominoes one by one, careful not to disturb the dented table. When she finally ran out of dominoes and the line cut through the center of the table with poised posture, a question came to her. “H-how do you know I’m a runaway?”

“Hmm?” The old woman looked appraisingly at the line of dominoes. “What do you think, dearie? All the people who come here are the same. Runaways.”

“D-don’t you get travelers?”

“Oh, yes. But anyone who comes this way is a runaway. Running to that darned gate, everyone is. Or so they say.” She finally raised her eyes from the table, pushing aside a stray wisp of her white hair with her hand. “What I ask them is, what are they running away from? Now that is the question.”

Her brown eyes stared into Luna’s as if relaying a secret message, and suddenly Luna wished she would look down again. But the old woman merely tilted her head and continued talking.

“So why are you here, dearie?”

Luna nervously cleared her throat, willing her voice not to stumble. “I want to go past the gate.”

“Oh, I know that, dearie. But why?”

“None of your business.” Luna steeled her voice with as much strength as she could muster.

The old woman laughed and then gestured to the line of dominoes. “You see these pieces? They are the pieces of life. Hard to balance. And if you slip—” She flicked the first domino with a nimble finger, sending the rest sprawling down in a wave of formation. “You see, they fall all the time, these pieces of life. But you can’t just walk away and expect them to spring back up again.” She pushed back her chair and stood up. “I think the cookies are ready.”

Luna swallowed, glancing at the fallen dominoes as the old woman shuffled to the stove at the corner of the room. “I thought you just said not to walk away from the pieces,” she blurted, unable to conceal her usual bite of sarcasm.

“Yes, so why aren’t you picking them up?”

“You knocked them over,” Luna said defensively, a hard edge creeping into her voice as her anxiety finally drifted away.

“But they’re your pieces, dearie,” the old woman answered. “You put them up. Now, are you sure you don’t want some cocoa?” Without waiting for a response, she brought two steaming mugs to the table, winking cheerily as she set one down in front of Luna. “I’m sorry for being so snappy, dearie. But it would do you good to pick them up. Not for me, for yourself.”

Luna eyed the dominoes lying sadly on their faces. “Why?”

The old woman was already shuffling back towards the corner. “Careful, dearie, the cocoa’s hot.” She stooped down to open the oven, transferring the smell of cookies to the counter. “And I bet my buttons those pieces are sick of waiting for you to pick them up. Do you like snickerdoodles?”

As the old woman carried the scent of warm cinnamon towards the round table, Luna hastily swept the dominoes to her side and began laying them flat on their backs in neat rows. The old woman smiled and slid the plate of snickerdoodles into the center of the table.

“Have a cookie, dearie,” she invited, grabbing one for herself and taking a bite. “Mmm.” She finished the rest of the snickerdoodle as she walked back to the corner to briefly switch the faucet on. Luna watched as she shook drops of water into the air instead of drying her hands with a towel.

Luna wrapped her hands around her mug of cocoa, spreading thick warmth into her chapped palms. The old woman sat down and studied her closely.

“You, dearie, are a moon child,” she declared softly.

Luna’s heart jumped. She hadn’t told the old woman her name, had she?

“I can see it in your eyes,” the old woman continued, still regarding Luna with uncomfortable intensity.

Luna frowned to conceal her pounding nerves. “What do you mean?”


At the sound of the word, Luna felt her body shiver.

“Trapped,” the old woman continued, “like the new moon.” She drew a circle on the table with a still glistening damp finer, leaving a faint outline on the nicked surface. “Hard to see the new moon, isn’t it? Impossible, I’d say.” She laughed a little, then took a sip of hot cocoa. “Have you tried a cookie yet, dearie?”

Very hesitantly, Luna’s fingers closed around a warm snickerdoodle. “It’s good,” she said after taking a bite of cinnamon. “Thank you.”

The old woman smiled, then gazed out the window. “It’s dark outside, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Luna agreed. In an awkward attempt to continue the conversation, she added, “But it’s always dark at night.”

“Oh, yes. But only if you feel swallowed by the night.”

Luna swallowed a bite of snickerdoodle and looked downward, unsure of what to say.

“Moon Child,” the old woman said softly, “things only seem dark because you are trapped like the new moon. But you, dearie, can rise out of the darkness—” She drew a crescent on the table with her hand—“and shine, like the full moon.” She pointed a finger to the window. “Out there. See the moonlight?”

Luna nodded.

“That is the true way to happiness, dearie. Only when you emerge from the darkness can you find that happiness.” She paused. “And the land past the gate is the wrong path to take.”

“But…isn’t that the land of happiness?”

“So they say.” The old woman fixed her eyes on Luna. “Dearie, going past the gate is running away from the darkness. It won’t help. Do you want some more cocoa?”

Luna considered her empty mug. “If you don’t mind, yes. Please.”

The old woman smiled and lifted both mugs back to the corner. Luna stared at the neat rows of dominoes and hesitantly cleared her throat.

“What did you mean when you said ‘moon child’?”

The old woman turned the sink faucet on to rinse off her mug. “Oh, yes, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a moon child. The last one to come here—oh, yes, that boy. He was an angry one. Nearly bellowed the house down asking me to get him across the gate. Bashed my table with a frying pan, that boy did. I daresay he drank too much nasty stuff at a party.” The old woman sighed and finished drying her mug with a towel before refilling Luna’s. “Pity I was out of milk that day. It would’ve cooled him down.” She started back towards the table. “Milk and cookies would’ve done the trick, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” Luna replied mildly, reclaiming her mug. “But what’s a moon child?”

“Ah.” The old woman leaned back in her chair. “I see pain in your eyes, dearie. You’re fighting a war, in—” She stood up to lean across the table and extend a finger, tapping Luna gently on the forehead— “here.” The old woman shifted back into her seat. “It’s a mental game you have there, dearie. You are a moon child. You suffer inside. But you also have the power to fight your way out.”

Luna cast her eyes towards the dominoes once more. “I don’t know.”

“But you do, dearie,” the old woman insisted, leaning forward excitedly. “The land beyond the gate is not the answer. I know you have come to ask me to unlock it, and my answer is this—I will not. Running away is not the answer.”

Luna stared at her. “But—”

“Dearie, running away is not all as good as it seems to be. You need to face your enemy and fight your battle.”

“You won’t help me.” It wasn’t a question.

The old woman raised an eyebrow, her eyes glowing with warmth in the light. “But I am helping you, dearie. In a better way.”

Luna felt her heart drop, and she wasn’t sure if she felt robbed or relieved. “So I have to go back?”

“Ah, back to the past. That is a very different question…” The old woman’s voice faded ominously as her eyes began to delve deep into thought.

“That’s not what I meant.” Luna winced at the sound of her scorched voice.

“But it is true, dearie. You must return to the past in order to move forward again. The crescent remembers the new moon, but it does not wallow and wane upon remembering. Instead it blooms—like you must bloom—into a circle of completeness. A new start.”

“Yes,” Luna answered edgily, “but then it shrinks back to the new moon again.”

The old woman’s eyes burned, though not harshly, into Luna’s retina. “That is why you must be able to rise from the darkness regardless.” Her eyes suddenly lost focus as she straightened in her seat, and the thick intensity drained out of the air. A stalemated moment passed before she opened her mouth again. “It’s almost morning, dearie. Twenty minutes more and light will start peeking out.” She rested her hands on the edge of the table. “Take a snickerdoodle with you?”

“No,” Luna replied. “I don’t need one.” And as she spoke the soft words, she realized they were true. She was no longer cold. With a small smile she rose from her seat and slowly pushed her chair in. “Thank you.”

The old woman nodded, but for once, she didn’t speak a word.

Luna suddenly felt disconcerted at the thought of leaving so quickly and taking the conversation with her. “I don’t know your name,” she blurted, her voice clumsily deprived of any decent parting words.

“I don’t know yours, either, dearie.”

“Luna.” As she spoke her name, the room suddenly seemed to chase all bits of darkness away.

The old woman remained unmoving, but her eyes appeared brighter. “So you really are a moon child.” She chuckled to herself, then cleared her throat and gazed towards the window. “And you may call me Hope.”

Luna nodded curtly. It seemed strange to address the old woman directly, though, so she simply turned away and pulled open the door.

The old woman was right. Outside, the sky already seemed to be growing lighter.

Only then did Luna look straight into the old woman’s eyes. “Good-bye.”

From the carved wooden table, Hope smiled. “Good morning.”

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