The Earth Maiden
                                                                       by Lauren Broestl

    Since time began there have been stories and legends that have appeared in one form or another among all cultures upon the Earth. Among these a single one has the uniqueness to be completely recognizable in all cases. This is the story of la Doncella de Tierra, Das Erdenm dchen, Het Aarde Meisje...the Earth Maiden.
    Twice each year, at the coming of the solstice, a mysterious maiden appears upon the Earth. Stories of her appearance are as varied as the cultures that speak of her, for to each she appears in a different guise. Sometimes she is said to sing, often she dances; she is always impossible to catch. Like magic she appears, to bring a taste of the wild to the people she sees, and like magic she disappears once more, until another solstice comes around and releases her to dance upon the Earth she helps to make. For countless centuries this was the norm, until one day something of hers was stolen.
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    Slowly the figure crept towards the door, cat-like feet padding softly on the carpet. As it passed beneath a large window, a shaft of sunlight illuminated the fiery red hair and pale face of a young girl. Carefully she moved on, hardly daring to breathe until she had reached the door and pulled it open. With a sigh of relief she stepped outside and pulled the door shut behind her, it closed with a click.
    “Jenna,” a voice exclaimed, “Get back in here young lady! Jenna!”
    Throwing caution to the winds Jenna ran, tearing madly down the path in the bright sunshine until she had reached the white picket fence that marked the entrance to the woods. Hardly slowing, she vaulted over it and continued on, running until she reached the small clearing she always played in. Laughing with joy and exhilaration she began to spin, until, dizzy, she fell to the soft moss covered ground, still grinning.
    She had been dying to get out of the house the whole day; so crazy she’d thought she was going to explode. She couldn’t explain why; nothing unusual had happened today that she could think of, and it couldn’t even be the solstice, which always made her want to run out into the hills, because that wasn’t until tomorrow. Despite logic, however, it had almost felt like something was physically pulling her to the woods. She sighed and still drunk with the joy, decided to abandon the question for now. She rolled over onto her stomach, ready to spend the rest of her day beneath the thick canopy of trees, and that was when she saw him, Leaning against the nearest tree, there was a boy, He was watching her with wide blue eyes under thick brown hair, and he seemed stunned. Instantly she froze; he must have been there since the beginning. She could feel herself turning red.
    “Sorry!” she exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “I didn’t see you there at all. I’ll just leave now, and let you have the woods.” Suiting action to word, she turned and began to walk away, until a shout froze her in place.
    “Wait!” the boy had exclaimed. “Don’t go yet! I’m sorry if I seemed rude, or if you thought I was spying on you, but that wasn’t it at all, honest! I was just surprised, and you looked like you were having so much fun that I didn’t want to interrupt!”
    Slowly Jenna turned around. “Don’t apologize,” she replied, smiling. “I thought I was the one being rude.”
    She walked over and plopped down on the grass beside him. Sticking out her hand, she proclaimed, “My name’s Jenna.”
    Taking her hand, the boy shook it warmly. “I’m Kalic. Don’t ask; it’s some weird family thing. My parents thought it would be cool if I had an ‘original’ name. Most people just call me Kal.”
    “Nice to meet you, Kal. Are you new around here?”
    “Yeah, we just moved in across the way, in the old house across the stream. Apparently it’s been empty for about fifteen-years or something. Anyway it’s pretty cool inside. There are lots of old things that were left behind. We broke a vase with some dirt and bark in it, but I could show you the other things sometime, if you want.”
    “That would be awesome! And I could show yo the woods around here. I’ve been in and around them so many times I bet I could hike them in my sleep. There are all sorts of neat places, like beaver dams and streams to catch crawdads and bushes where the deer like to eat. I could show you stuff right now if you like.”
    “All right, let’s go!”
    The two leapt to their feet and darted off into the brush. For several hours they wandered the woods, until, exhausted and covered in mud, Kal paused to look at his watch.
“Oh man,” he exclaimed, “Mom’s going to kill me! I promised I’d be back and hour ago! Listen, Jenna, I’m really sorry, but I need to go.”
    “That’s fine, I probably need to get back also,” Jenna said in a gloomy voice.
    “Can we meet back at the clearing tomorrow,” Kal asked?
    Jenna brightened. “Sure,” she said. “I’ll meet you around eleven.” She sped off into the woods, fading so quickly into the trees that it almost seemed like magic. Kal watched her go, then turned and set off as well, whistling happily to himself as he went.
Neither of them expected that in a short time everything would change, that all their plans would go awry. Neither of them could see the future; neither of them had any reason to want to.
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    It was night, and outside hundreds of nocturnal creatures prowled the earth, as the wind whistled through the trees overhead. Moonlight and shadows dance with each other, creating elaborate twirls and patterns that decorated the ground.
    Inside, Kal, who had been sleeping soundly, suddenly awoke with a start. He could still hear the grandfather clock his parents had brought with them, chiming the last bells of midnight. As the sound slowly faded, a heavy stillness seemed to settle upon the Earth. Everything, from the trees to the animals seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for some secret sign of ancient and deep magic.
    Kal could feel it too, and carefully, so as not make a sound, he crept toward his window. Peering outside, a strange sight met his eyes, and he blinked twice, hardly able to believe what he was seeing.
    “Jenna,” he whispered. She was walking beneath the trees, heading deeper into the forest as though in a trance. With each step the ground beneath her feet seemed to come alive, so that in the wake of her passage a stream of flowers grew, pushing their way up through the soil to taste the nighttime air.
    Kal didn’t wait to see more, but headed for the stairs, still wearing his pajamas. Opening the door softly, so as not to wake his parents, he slipped outside and tore after Jenna. Finally, exhausted and out of breath, he caught up with her, just as she was reaching the clearing where they had met earlier that day.
    “Jenna!” he cried, and reaching out grabbed her arm.
    She seemed not to hear him, but proceeded on her way, shaking off his arm as though it were nothing.
    “Jenna,” Kal tried again. For a moment she paused, cocking her head as though hearing a far off voice, and he dared to hope. In a second, however, she had forgotten it, and continued to walk forward.
    At a loss as to what to do next, Kal followed her, careful not to step on any of the flowers that sprouted from beneath her feet. At the center of the clearing she stopped, and slowly turned until she was facing an ancient tree that rose from the forest floor, reaching up into the sky until it was too tall to see. Then she began to spin. Raising her arms on either side of her, she twirled faster and faster. Her long red hair seemed to fill with an electric current, until it danced madly around her head, while swirls of leaves came and surrounded her, spiraling around in circles until she became the eye of a tornado. A strange yellow glow seemed to radiate from her skin, illuminating a small patch of the forest around her.
    Then just as suddenly as she had begun spinning, she stopped. Facing the tree she raised her arms above her head, while still her hair danced, and the leaves twirled, and her body glowed with the unearthly light. And slowly, so slowly that at first it was hardly noticeable, the tree began to open. A large split carved itself down the middle, revealing a hollow interior, and in the depths of the tree something stirred. Unfolding herself from the dark shadows a shining woman emerged. Smiling she stepped to the entrance of the tree and beckoned with a glowing hand. An echoing voice seemed to reverberate around the clearing.
    “Come my child,” the voice said, and Kal seemed to hear it as much with his mind as with his ears. “You belong with me.”
    Hesitantly Jenna began to walk towards the woman, painstakingly placing each foot one after the other.
    “No,” Kal cried, reaching out a hand to grab her, but as his hand touched her, and electric shock seemed to shoot through his body, and he pulled away, wincing in pain. Nevertheless, his touch appeared to have done something. Jenna was no longer moving forward but had paused. Her eyes were blinking and she was turning her head back and forth, looking first at Kal then at the glowing figure.
    “Mother?” she whispered.
    “Yes, my child. Now come with me. We can be together at last. You are meant to be part of the Earth.”
    “No,” Kal cried again. He had only just met her; she couldn’t disappear.
    “Where have you been, mother?” Jenna whispered again.
    “I am sorry daughter. It was not meant to happen like this. I loved you, I truly did, but they stole you from me. When I came for you, they trapped me, and locked me in my forest prison. For fifteen years I have been caught in here, and then finally, today, the first half of the spell was broken.”
    An image flashed through Kal’s mind, a vase falling, dirt on the ground, a single square of bark.
    “That was not enough, however, I needed power. I needed your power, my daughter. But now I am free, and you can come with me. Come back where you belong.”
Again the woman beckoned, and again Jenna began to walk, drawn forward irresistibly by the power before her.
    “No!” Kal cried for the third time, and again Jenna froze. Annoyed, the strange woman slowly turned her shining eyes upon him.
    “Who are you?” she asked. “Who are you to interfere in my life or the life of my daughter? What gives you the right?”
    “What gives you the right?” Kal exclaimed.
    “I am her mother.”
    “You don’t even know her! Can’t you see? She’s supposed to be here; her home is with humans! She belongs here!”
    The woman looked at her daughter, still frozen in place, and her eyes slowly softened.
“Perhaps you are right,” she said. “You are a very brave boy, please look after for me.”
With a gentle swish of air she disappeared, the tree closed with a snap, and the glow slowly faded from Jenna’s cheeks. Around them the normal sounds of forest creatures began to stir. As the last of the light faded, Jenna’s eyes opened, and seeing Kal she burst into tears, flinging her arms around his neck. Silently he let her cry, while around them the trees seemed to whisper, “Until next solstice...Until next solstice...Goodbye.”

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Lauren Broestl is a tenth grade student at The Athenian School in Danville, California.