Once upon this time there is a woman. She is young and beautiful and could have the world at her fingertips, if only she would reach out and grasp it. So why doesn’t she? It is because this tragic young woman is too consumed by the quest she has dedicated her life to fulfilling to acknowledge the world around her. When she was a child her father told her a legend about a lake hidden deep in the wild mountains. In the center of this lake supposedly towers a jagged rock, and any person who sails to the center of the lake and touches the rock will have their greatest wish granted. Every day and every month and every year of her life since, the girl and now woman has searched for the enchanted lake. She scours every body of water she encounters, memorizes maps and charts ships and planes and trains to take her across the land. She searches a hundred lakes a year, every year.
On this once upon a time her searching brings her to her 2,785th lake. It is a frigid body of glacial melt water bordered on all sides by steep mountain cliffs. She steps into her little wooden boat and pushes off from the shore, paddling through the mist and silence. The lake is not wide but it is very long and as she paddles the Sun sets and the night descends. The mist glows gently in the moonlight and the ripples dance from the paddle as she sails, sails, sails.
And then the rock rises before her in the darkness. It pierces the sky, a monolith of stone like smooth black glass. The prow of her boat bumps gently against the rock’s face and then comes to rest. The woman trembles and slowly, so slowly reaches out her hand. She places her palm against the wall of stone and–
–is in her father’s arms.
“My princess,” he is saying as he lifts her little child body up, “whatever are you crying for?” He wipes away her tears with fingers that are gloved in white satin. How can it be him? How can he be here? His voice is just as she remembers it, so kind and gentle, and his eyes are exactly as she recalls them, sparkling with sweet amusement behind round glass lenses. He is not a day older than when she last saw him, and as on that distant day he is dressed in his funeral finery. She reaches out to touch his cheek and his skin is as warm as hers.
He smiles in a way she has never seen before, an expression that is so impossibly sad that it should not be called a smile at all. He strokes her golden curls fondly and says her name once, twice, three times under his breath. Why is he so sad?
“Princess,” he holds her closer, “do you know why you are here?” She buries her face against his neck and breathes in his scent of paper and ink and woodsmoke. He kisses the crown of her head, like he did when she was a child. “You’ve been asleep, dearest. All these years, all the time between my death and this moment right here, you’ve been like Sleeping Beauty trapped in her castle. You haven’t lived. You haven’t experienced all the things I hoped for you. All the things I wanted to show you but never had the chance to. I wanted you to see the world and… you haven’t seen a thing.” He cradles her in his arms and she cannot remember another time in her life when she has heard his voice tremble with tears. He kisses her again. “You have to wake up. You have to live for me.”
The young woman wakes in the bottom of her small boat. The lake is very still, and dawn is just beginning to lighten the sky. The stone at the center of the lake has vanished.