“Often found in forests, eating leaves. It has a sharp, venomous stinger on its head.” – Pokédex


  We enter the forest mindful of where we step. Our mothers have warned us that untold ecosystems may hide within every patch of grass, behind every tree, inside every anthill. Potential friends and foes alike have us wary, some small enough to squish dead under our clean, white sneakers. We barely lift our feet off the ground with each inch deeper into the woods, ever farther from home. We move as if a bully tied our shoelaces together. The forest is as dark as a moonless night even though it’s daytime, the sunlight blocked by treetops thick as clouds.


  Our journey begins here. Although we see only trees and rocks and grass, we sense the wild creatures looming, surrounding us. It feels like a weight pressing down on our shoulders, like fog filling our lungs. A low buzzing sound hums always just behind our heads no matter how quickly we turn to look. We remember pictures in books of insects with wings and stingers. Bugs with exoskeletons and silk-shooters. Things with more legs than eyeballs. We haven’t yet learned what is poisonous and what is not, so we assume everything is poisonous, or else risk our lives. But we are risking our lives. We are ten years old. Yesterday our mothers cooked us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Today we carry vials of antidotes in our backpacks.


  For now we stay together, but we fear the forest will split us apart. Between every here and there is a maze—forest, or cave, or ocean—from which everyone emerges alone. By chance we may reunite on the other side, on some day that will seem like it’s still today because we will have never slept. We will meet again, in a museum or a market, and swap stories, compare triumphs, trade secrets in one-sided conversations. We will continue down the same path, though never together for long, forever separating and converging, like curved lines in a graph taught in schools we never attended. Our minds flee to the future because now we cannot turn back.


  The grass is taller here. Soon it will reach above our heads. We should want to see where we’re going, but we imagine safety in the willowy thickness. If we cannot see the forest, maybe the forest cannot see us. We whisper prayers that the grass might protect us from monsters with powers to stab us, peck us, tackle us, bind us. We stand still as statues and pretend we are invisible. We think maybe we can stay here, become parts of the forest. Adapt and evolve. We must grow new parts to survive in the world. Fists of rock, tails on fire. The forest will make us strong and dangerous if we make it our home.


  But a voice in our heads tells us this is not the way. It is the voice of a wise man, a scientist, a grandfather. It is stern but caring. It is a voice that we trust more than we trust ourselves. It says: “Not now.” We walk on through the tall grass.


  On the far side of the forest is an exit. A new route to a new town, larger than the one where we were born, the only place we’ve ever known, that handful of houses we may never see again. If we duck our heads, and plan every step, we will emerge from the forest—champions of the first trial—into sunlight, or the brightest moon. If we fail, we hope to wake up in the past, inside a nest we never left.