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A Walk in the Moonlight
The sun was bright and high, a blinding beacon of the day. A fair girl of fifteen was perched upon a fallen log in the quiet grove. The sycamores reached out to the girl as she sat silently, starry eyes gazing into nothingness with a pleasant glazed expression. The wind whispered kind thoughts of joy in her ear, though she understood none of it. A twig snapped and she was suddenly awoken from her trance-like state. She whirled around to see who was approaching, but no one was there. Just the lonely white ash staring back at her.
Glancing at her watch, she groaned, knowing she had missed their eleven-thirty-family-luncheon...again. Her mother was growing more and more anxious over her because she zoned out frequently and often forgot plans. It was now twelve-forty. After stretching, the girl walked towards the west, directly away from her grove. After five minutes, she arrived, only to be nearly suffocated by her mother, Francie. After much scolding and lecturing, Alexa sauntered up the steps to her bedroom. Her punishment: house arrest for a week. Her grounding would have been bearable, for her parents usually worked late. But this week was midwinter break, and Lex wasn't alone in the house.
Her little brother Bobby was a force to be reckoned with. He was their golden child, though he did in fact hate his given name: Phoebus. That was his only flaw in their parents' minds: he did his homework, got good grades, rarely left the house unless having a scheduled activity, and hadn't adapted any of Lex's mannerisms.
Not that Alexa was a bad daughter. She just wasn't exactly what they were hoping for. They had dreamed of honor roll, class president, advanced courses and extra-curricular school activities and clubs. Instead they got an uninvolved loner-type with one close friend, who never had excelled in anything academic or leadership. Lex just wasn't that type of person, and had long since grown immune to her mother's rants.
So Lex tiptoed past Bobby's room because she really didn't want to talk to him, especially since he'd most likely be finishing up some extra credit project. Though he was three years younger, he had skipped the sixth grade and would be entering her high school in the fall. She grumbled about it a lot, and despised him for him being so perfect all the time.
Lex threw her door wide and collapsed on her comfy bed. She just lay there, staring blankly at the ceiling. It seemed to be her favorite pastime. Not that she zoned out on purpose. It just kind of happened...a lot. Especially when she had a lot on her mind, or a fight with her best friend Keira. They were like sisters, but bickered like an old married couple at times.
Lex's door swung slowly open a few inches, and Mogget jumped up onto the bed with her. Mogget was an elegant white cat who was enduring his mid-life crisis, and would sometimes go berserk, running mad through the house. He seemed to be the only one who could ever understand her, so his fuzzy warmth was always a welcome comfort. Alexa passed the enticing day indoors as instructed, though longing to be among her friendly sycamores and that white ash standing alone. As the sun dipped low along the horizon, Lex absent-mindedly flipped through a beloved novel, her eyes growing heavier with every word...
Waking with a start, Lex leaned over to see her clock reading eleven-fifty-nine. The entire house was asleep as she dazedly stumbled through the hall and down the staircase. She pulled the mahogany door open a little for some rejuvenating air. Stepping outside, Lex breathed a sigh of relief and gazed up at the endless stars. Scanning the dark horizon, something odd caught her weary eyes. A flash of silver streaked across the countryside, lit up like a beacon in a world of darkness and shadows. She began to follow the figure, and soon recognized familiar surroundings. The silver form had disappeared into the sycamore grove. Throwing care to the winds, Lex ventured into the foreboding forest of unknown, not knowing what she would find.
As Lex made her way through the dense undergrowth, tripping and stumbling many times, she realized what a fool she was. She was out in the freezing winter colds in the dead of night with naught but blue jeans and a sweatshirt. No food, no flashlight, no cell phone. And now she was lost.
She lay down on the damp leaves, defeated. Hopefully the light of a new day would illuminate her situation better. Lex woke to the snap of a nearby twig. The dawn was fast approaching, and she could sense someone watching her from the briars. She perched herself on a fallen log to view the sunrise, branch in hand in case she was ambushed. Lex had always felt at home with the coming of the dawn. Scanning the countryside, she realized that her house wasn't there. Neither were any other structures. This stunned her, which allowed her stalker to approach. He grabbed her shoulder and demanded to know who she was and how she got here. The man didn't appear dangerous, and, after a double take, seemed to be about her age. “Lex. And you?”
“Chuck.” He had an odd air about him, something wasn't right. “How'd you get here?” His voice would have been silky, if not for the rough edge to it. His brown curls framed his face handsomely, and his height was rather intimidating. He seemed almost familiar to Lex, though she couldn't place him.
“I followed a silver person here. Then I woke up and heard you.” It didn't take hearing it aloud to see how foolish her story was. Only an idiot would go into the woods alone at night.
“Same. Except I've been here for two days. And I still can't figure anything out. What this place is, why there's no other people. That is, until you showed up.” He sighed. “Hungry?” He offered some berries to Lex, who gratefully accepted them. He'd obviously been a long-term scouter who knew their stuff. Lex had given that up years ago. Yet another disappointment to her mother.
The two sat in silence for a while. Silence with company was comforting to the both of them, where it was awkward to most other people. Few words were shared over the morning, though Lex learned that Chuck's real name was Charles, he was one month from being sixteen, and went to the same high school as she. He was an honor roll student, with many leadership achievements. Oh, and he was also a disappointment to his parents, because he wanted to be a poet, not some scum politician. It seemed that Lex and Chuck had more in common than they'd thought.
The two wandered together, sharing not a word as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky. “Hello there.” A silvery feminine voice called to them. A fair woman with free-flying curly chocolate locks leaned elegantly against a tree. Her clothes were simple, but beautiful. A sleek silver gown that seemed to be made of moonlight hugged her curves. Her piercing green eyes were bright, even in shadows. She was radiant. And Lex knew at once that she had followed this woman into the woods last night. “Now why would two bright young ones be wandering about my woods? Chuck, Lex, you should know better. You might get yourselves lost.” Her pleasant chuckle cut the air like a knife with a hidden blade. And she knew their names. She looked at their stunned expressions and smiled. “Arty's the name. Follow me.”
So Lex and Chuck obeyed. This Arty seemed to be nice, whoever she was. Her pace was swift, leaving Chuck and Lex no breath for questions. When Arty abruptly stopped, Chuck asked, “Where are we?” Sycamores were everywhere, engulfing the group. A huge quaking aspen loomed above, its heart-shaped leaves brushing their shoulders. Arty ignored his question, and instead broke into a well-recited verse,
“Hidden wonders to be found
Which only you may see
Just look around for what you seek
And be rewarded with me.”
Charles and Lex turned to each other in confusion. Neither understood at all. When they looked back at Arty, she had vanished. They were all alone, in a foreign forest, with but a riddle to aid them. Chuck and Lex stood there silently, hoping that it was a joke. After a few minutes, it was obvious that no one was coming to their rescue.
“Do you remember the poem?” Lex asked Chuck, knowing he was super-intelligent, and would have probably paid more attention than she. He turned to her, slowly, remembering. Then he nodded. Lex's heart leapt, knowing they might have a chance, if Chuck could, or would, decipher the verse. “Do you know what it means? I haven't a clue.”
He began to think aloud, “Since Arty left us here, the aspen must have some mystical characteristics, or wonders. It's referring to something that we must find for ourselves. Though I don't understand the last line. It doesn't make sense because the person who is the “me” changes with whoever is reciting the rhyme.” Chuck screwed up his eyes, deep in thought. Lex could almost see the wheels turning in his head. Finally he said, “Why don't we look around? Maybe we'll get lucky and figure it out.” He paused, then added, “Let’s split up so we can cover more ground. Stay close to the aspen though,” Charles warned. It was quite easy to spot the giant aspen in a sea of whispering sycamores, so Lex didn't worry.
Lex headed off left around the tree's colossal trunk, Chuck to the right. The branches soon thickened and Lex got tangled up in them. Struggling for freedom, she fought back and escaped. Lex stumbled and fell to her knees as a single sprig fell gracefully to the earthy ground. The urge to reach out for it overcame Lex, and she picked it up, careful not to snap it. It appeared to be an ordinary shoot, but she could sense it was something special. Pocketing it, Lex went to find Chuck. When they met up on the other side of the aspen, he too had discovered a remarkable sprig. His sprig was long and dark a few bright red berries at its tip. Lex's was slender and light with a tint of orange adorned with small white buds.
“I see you have found what you sought,” a silver voice rang throughout the trees. Arty appeared from the shadows and beckoned to them to follow her again. They came to a little cabin set into a hillside. Skillfully made of fallen trees arranged together with a bark-thatched roof, it was inviting. “And now I will graciously invite you in for a spot of tea in my humble abode,” Arty said, with much playful bravado. As the door swung open, a delightful smell wafted out. The tea was chamomile, as it was locally available.
They sat in silence, until Chuck mustered his courage and asked, “What is this place?”
"Interesting first question. Most ask why they are here first." Arty murmured to herself. Then she spoke to them, "I cannot tell you exactly what this place is. I can tell you that it is still your world, just perhaps an alternate reality of it. I have brought the both of you here for a reason, a reason that only you may discover." She sipped more chamomile tea. "Don't you wish to discuss the matter of the aspen tree?" Before Lex or Chuck could say anything, Arty silenced then with a wave. "Let me first see your sprigs." They handed them to Arty, and she inspected them thoughtfully. "Describe yours to me, Chuck. What does it remind you of?"
"Well, it's really dark, like the night sky. It's also long, with a rough outside. The berries are a really bright red."
"How is it the answer to the verse if it means nothing to you? It is everything to you."
Chuck thought for a moment and smiled. "I get it! I actually get it!" He laughed, a deep, resonant laugh. "The poem was talking about finding yourself! Lex and I each found a sprig we just knew was special, but not why. This sprig is me! I am tall, and strong, and dark!"
Arty nodded. "You are the night, as I am the moon. Lex is the dawn, as hers is orange. The berries signify that your soul is bright and strong, and you should never doubt yourself. Lex, yours is thinner, which shows that you can be hurt more easily. The white buds are your pure spirit that should not be restrained. Always be true to yourself, and not worry about who others may want you to be." Arty smiled at them, and continued, "Both of you were beginning to lose yourselves. Now you have found yourselves again." She rose and led them outside and back to the lonely white ash. "Farewell, my friends." And with that, she was gone.
Lex and Chuck lay down near the ash, looking up at the infinite stars. "When we meet again, at school, will you be my friend?" Chuck whispered.
"Of course," came the reply. Then sleep overcame them, and they were soon dreaming of aspens and stars and mysteries...
Lex woke with a start. Mogget had leaped on her, desiring attention. Yawning and stretching, she noticed her clock read twelve-oh-one. Lex lay back down and began to doze, thinking of Arty and Chuck, and her sprig. Suddenly she sat bolt upright. She had gone outside, and didn't recall ever returning. If that was true, how could she be here now? Was it all just a dream? "What happened, Mogget?" Lex whispered into Mogget's ivory ear. "Am I delusional?"
Sighing, Lex settled back in her bed to go to sleep, planning to sort everything out in the morning. As her eyes closed, Mogget meowed and nudged her neck. Lex brushed him away, and felt something cool. Around her neck was a delicate silver chain with a single leaf the colors of the dawn hanging from it. An aspen leaf, perfect in every detail. She would wear it forever, and always know who she truly was.