Mabel's eyes were blank, staring.
“Mabel,” Joseph said. “Mabel?”
She blinked. "I don’t know about this.”
"Precisely,” said Joseph. "All the more reason for you to come.”
She walked mechanically. When they reached the edge of the forest, she turned to him and said, "This isn’t funny, Joseph. I’m surprised you would ever stoop to this level. Don’t you know how vile and black it is in the heart of the wilderness? You need to be very careful about what you’re doing.”
"Mabel, Mabel, Mabel. Don’t be afraid,” he said.
"This is all your fault! Why didn’t you run away when I threw the stones at you? Why didn’t you just—“
“—go to hell.”
Joseph stepped back and winced. He put his hands on his head and closed his eyes. Mabel couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Praying?
Finally, he said, “You know, I just want to help you see.”
“Help me see what?”
“You don’t make any sense,” she said.
“Well, I do love a bunch of nonsense! It’s rather fun!”
“How’s the forest going to bring me clouds?” she asked.
“The forest isn’t exactly what’s going to do it.”
“How many clouds?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Joseph. “Maybe just one at first. A lonely one, soft with no edges.”
Mabel looked into the forest with blank expression.
"Come,” said Joseph, and took her hand.
They traveled over fallen trees, rocks and branches until they reached a tiny, dark clearing. Mabel looked up and saw five surrounding trees slightly curving into a shadowy dome, blocking the sun.
Joseph said, “Wait here.” He returned carrying a gift wrapped in shiny paper, tied with dark, twisted ribbon. And trailing behind him was a skinny teenage boy.
“What now?” said Mabel.
“I like surprising you,” said Joseph. “This gift is for you because my love for you runs deep.”
The teenager twiddled his thumbs with a sly grin.
“This is Lucius,” said Joseph. “He really wanted to tie the ribbon on, so I permitted him to do so. When you try to untie it, poison will get on your fingers, trickle up your arms, into your shoulders, through your neck, and into your mind.”
Mabel raised her eyebrows.
“But I’ll be right here with you, closer than your breath, so nothing will completely overtake you.”
Mabel inhaled sharply and held out her arms to receive the present.