It was a small thing, so small that it lived in a low knothole of a gnarled tree—a tree of an age so great it could remember what the world was like before cruelty and terror ruled over the land. Inside the knothole was a cozy home, complete with all things that bring comfort—books, good food, and a warming hearth fire—and protected by a thick door made of the bark of the gnarled old tree itself, so that the hole was hidden, and thus kept out the malicious foe.
But where no enemy can wander in, nor can a friend. And so the little creature was lonely. A loneliness made all the worse by the quivers and shivers and shakes of constant dread that came from living with the knowledge that, outside its home, the world was filled with horrors.
So powerful was the fear that resided in the little creature’s heart that even in its lovely home, it could not even imagine a different world.
The creature’s fears were made all the worse for, from time to time, it needed to venture forth to forge. To do so was to risk being ripped limb from limb by prowling beasts. Each day terror grew, as the creature watched the contents of its pantry diminish, until all that was left was the smallest piece of shriveled apple. The time had come for the creature to leave its home in stealth and steal about the land, searching for food.
It happened that while the creature darted here and there, picking up seeds and bits of fruit, that it saw on the ground a gloriously large nut, beaming shiny in the sunlight of an open bit of land between the trees.
The creature looked one way, then another, and, seeing no one, darted forward.
It placed a hand upon the nut and was about to whisk it away when it noticed that it was not the only hand that sought the food.
Terror rose from the creature’s very core, and shaking as it had never done before, the creature lifted its head.
There before it stood another similar being; a gatherer like itself. And it was shaking and trembling, too.
Thus, did the creature’s fear begin to subside. And then, in a feat of striking bravery, it invited the gatherer to tea in the knothole. And there they feasted and told stories of great imaginings, where the world was different, full of friends and travels and wondrous things.
Which was, for the fearsome beasts of course, the beginning of the end.