Chapter 1: Into the Wilds

Like a murder of crows takes to wing, her fingers fly across mechanical keys. The entire office is filled with typing and shuffling noises atop a low, humming undercurrent of gossip and wit. On a good day, Rhiannon will get through 200 pages of paperwork. It's checked over, sent to a department head for approval, returned, improved upon, and then the whole process starts all over again. Like the murmuration of starlings, the trail of paper goes around and around and around—always growing, never really ending.

At noon, she goes downstairs to the building cafeteria. Lunch break is the only time employees from different companies get to mingle. She is ever intrigued by the easy manners of the travel company employees, the stern reticence of the financiers. They all seem so foreign and familiar at the same time, these people she sees every day and yet can only make up stories about in her head. Rhiannon always orders the daily special. It's the only bit of variability in her work day. Once her tuna niçoise salad or pesto pasta is consumed, it's back upstairs to the grind.

All this, every weekday of every week.
Every week of every year since she turned 22.
...It's been a little while since then.

The work isn't hard, but it isn't exactly enjoyable, either. In a word, it is familiar. Why bother, at this stage of life, to do anything different? Instead, Rhiannon lives for her weekends. It's a pleasant and relaxing life, nothing worth complaining about. She watches Korean dramas on Netflix, treats herself to a night out at a trendy restaurant, and once a month spritzes water on her succulents.

All this, every weekend of every week.
Every week of every year since she turned 22.
...How long has it been since then?

"Rhia, isn't your birthday coming up soon?" her chirpy co-worker Nicole asks her at lunch. It's a brisk day at the tip of October.

"Oh yeah. Now that I think about it..."

"Now that you think about it? It's your birthday, girl! Show some enthusiasm!"

"Well, I'm turning 30, you know... It's not really something I want to celebrate." She's been finished with this conversation since the first mention of her birthday, but it's too hard to shoot down someone so chipper.

"You know they say the best time of a woman's life is in her 30's?"

"What? Why?"

"We've figured our lives out! And we've got good careers! In other words, we have money and freedom. We can do whatever we want! You should hire, like, 10 male strippers and throw yourself a real party."

"That doesn't really sound like my idea of fun at all" is what Rhiannon wants to say, but there's no point and she knows it. So she just smiles and shrugs and pretends to give in to Nicole's effervescence. "Maybe."

With a knowing grin, the other woman lightly punches her in the shoulder before getting up to throw her trash away and leave the cafeteria. Rhiannon finishes her sandwich before doing the same.

Once at her desk again, however, she finds it hard to get her head into her work like usual. The dread of her approaching birthday weighs on her. What do I want to do for my birthday? Rhiannon wonders. She runs through some ideas, jotting them down on a post-it note, but nothing out of the ordinary comes to mind. Sighing, she opens Instagram in a private browser to see if her feed will spark something. (it hasn't yet been proven that IT has no access to what employees look at in a private session, but it makes her feel a little more at ease)

And then while scrolling aimlessly, she sees it.
It's just a simple ad with a simple catchphrase, just a forest with the words Dare to discover emblazoned across the trees. No doubt their company graphic designer could have whipped up something much more professional.

Yet it takes her breath away. The reflection of the forest in the clear water, the tall, ageless trees, the suggestion of something more, hidden in the shadowy depths off the beaten path... Suddenly, Rhiannon has to go there. She's reminded of her childhood trips camping with her dad and her fellow girl scouts. I always wanted a life of adventure. She looks around and sees only rows of cubicles boxing everyone in.

"Is this the life you want?" asks the ad.

Was this really the life she wanted, every day of every week?

"When was the last time you got away from it all?" inquires the ad.

When was the last time she got away from it all?

"Take a trip into the Wilds with us! Note: tour groups are subject to availability, so book now." encourages the ad.

Before the end of the day, a vacation request form sits on her boss's desk. She books plane tickets and joins a tour group posthaste. Rhiannon's not worried about the possible denial of her request; she has more than enough days off to spare.

And besides...

It's her birthday.