Autumn finished her latest Lego creation.
“Look, Daddy!” she said. “It’s a park house!”
“A park house,” her father said. “What’s that?”
Autumn explained that a park house was a special place where people could rest and eat snacks while they played at the park. They were built among flowers and trees. Autumn’s park house featured a bed, lemonade stand and TV.
“All the comforts of civilization,” her father said.
“What’s civilization?” Autumn said.
“Good question,” he said, looking at his watch. “We’ll talk about it later. Clean up, please, time to go!”
Autumn and her father, Marshall, and his girlfriend, Chloe, were off to hike in the mountains near their home. They were met at a trailhead by friends, Steve and Kim, and their little baby, Luna.
“Hi, Autumn!” Steve and Kim said.
Luna, strapped to her mother’s chest, peered at Autumn with her big dark eyes.
“Luna is so pretty!” Autumn said.
Autumn heaved her Tinker Bell backpack over her shoulder, filled with Band-Aids and peanuts, and ran uphill. The adults trailed behind.
After a while, they came to an open field, where stood a magnificent apple tree.
Autumn couldn’t help herself. She rushed to the tree and tried in vain to pluck one of the red, shiny, low-lying fruit.
The adults agreed that a lone apple tree in the wild was unusual, even for Los Angeles, a city where the unusual was not uncommon, but what happened next was more so.
From the ridge, a white glistening unicorn galloped into sight.
The majestic creature slowed to a trot and ambled toward the apple tree. There, it pulled the branches with its mouth, causing apples to fall.
One landed in Autumn’s hand. The unicorn gently nibbled the apple, tickling her fingers, until swallowing it whole.
The unicorn peered into Autumn’s eyes, neighed quietly, then vanished.
Autumn turned toward the adults.
“Wasn’t that awesome?” she said.
Steve scratched his head. Kim adjusted the baby strap. Chloe sipped water from a bottle.
Marshall gazed at his daughter.
“Sure was,” he said. “All of those apples falling at once. Who would have thought?”
“We must have just had a little earthquake,” Steve said, examining the apple tree. “But I didn’t feel anything, did you?”
The adults shook their heads.
They must not have seen the unicorn, Autumn thought. How strange.
“Gather up those apples, and let’s get going,” Autumn’s father said.
Autumn noticed that Luna continued staring at the empty space where the unicorn once stood. Then, she smiled at Autumn. Autumn smiled back. At least Luna knew.
Autumn stuffed the fallen apples into her Tinker Bell backpack. She rejoined the group.
They continued to hike. Finally, they came to a grassy clearing at the end of the trail. There stood a lone oak tree.
An old woman with raggedy hair and dirty clothes was building something around the tree. It involved a blue tarp and a shopping cart and pieces of cardboard.
“It’s a park house!” Autumn said. “Look, Daddy, look!”
But no one else seemed to notice the lady, except Luna. Like the unicorn, it was as if they couldn’t see her.
As Autumn continued tugging on her father’s shirt, trying to get his attention, Marshall bent down suddenly and met his daughter, eye to eye.
“Remember how I mentioned the word ‘civilization’ to you earlier today?” he said.
“Yes, Daddy. What is it?”
“Civilization is like our city, Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s a place where a lot of people come together to live. Some people live in big fabulous houses, but most of us live in little houses, or apartments. Some people don’t have homes at all, like that lady there, so she’s building herself one.”
Autumn stood in silence and watched the lady. Slowly, she opened her backpack.
“May I give her an apple?” she said.
“Yes,” her father said. “Let’s give it to her together. I’m sure she would like that.”