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The trees shook madly as Carmen Gonzalez made her way to a towering oak named El Grande Oak. She sat down on the roots that had managed to break through the ground. It was the only place she could be away from the chaos of her own home and relax in the quiet of the Marongo woods. Wildflowers and thornbushes covered the ground, while oak and birch trees towered overhead. It was the quietest place in the small town of Marongo, a town a little south from Madrid. Nobody chose to vacation to Marongo, but it was not frowned upon. There were no national landmarks, but small miracles were popular. It was not paradise, but it had its own inner beauty.

Carmen situated herself against the great oak as she opened her journal and took out her pen. Then she started to recite the day's highlights in her head. Every night, after the candles went out, she would sneak a match and candle from the cupboard. She would then make her way quietly with her journal and pen to the big oak where she sat now.

Nothing at her home was ever like the calming Marongo woods. Carmen had three sisters (one younger, two older) and three brothers (two younger, one older). She was the middle child, and "the beauty of the family" While her mother and siblings had short, stringy hair and big, long noses, Carmen had long, thick hair and a short, cute nose. Her outer beauty shone brighter than her inner beauty, though, for she was very shy. She liked to keep to herself, which was extremely hard at home. Her brothers and sisters were always playing loudly and obnoxiously, while Carmen enjoyed calmness and quiet in a household.

Find Your Voice apparition appears
Suddenly, a bright light came from nowhere,
and in it appeared a small girl.

Carmen had had a friend once, named Maria Rodriguez. Maria had moved to New York, with Carmen's father as the guide and helper. They had all died in the crashing of the World Trade Center. Every night, after visiting the Marongo woods, Carmen would lie in her bed and recall the details about her father and her best friend.

Carmen thought of her friend often, also kind yet very shy. She was so kindhearted, though, she would have achieved great things if she had lived, Carmen thought.

Suddenly, out of the darkness and the stillness, a bright light came from nowhere, and in it appeared a small girl. She had short black hair and a beautiful, Hispanic face. She was dressed in a gold ball gown, with white lace on the sleeves. Carmen thought the girl was strangely familiar. Then it hit her.

"Maria," Carmen said very quietly, almost like a whisper.

"Hola, Carmen," Maria said in a clear, tall voice, which was highly peculiar for Maria was very shy, even with her friends. "I have been sent on a mission to tell you a story I heard right before I died."

"Once, there was a beautiful maiden named Rita Diaz. She was daughter to the baker of the town. She was shy and quiet, but very kind. One day, Rita received a letter asking for her hand in marriage. She was too shy to refuse, so she was sent away to live with her new husband, Antonio Rivera, and his family She soon realized that he was a cruel, mean man who even disobeyed his elders. Rita was too shy to ask for a divorce, so she stayed. Her husband made many terrible choices for her, so she was led into a hard, cold life. The end.

"Rita is like you, Carmen," Maria said after finishing her story "If you wish to have a lovely life full of grace and happiness, you must learn to speak your own voice. Do not be scared to show your feelings. Carmen, do not be shy any longer, for I am watching over you, as is your father. Find your voice, and use it." With that, there was another burst of light, and Maria Rodriguez floated up into the sky, producing beautiful, silver wings.

Carmen let Maria's words sink in. She had been letting other people take over her life. She had to get a voice, one that was her own. She knew it would not be easy, for she was already fourteen years old. Yet she knew that if she tried her hardest, she could succeed.

Find Your Voice Erin Bennett
Erin Bennett, 11
Chicago, Illinois

Find Your Voice Susannah Benjamin
Susannah Benjamin,12
Greenwich, Connecticut