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A white tail bobbed in the bushes and Samantha's ice-skate skidded to a messy stop. The girl made no sudden moves. Slowly, she lifted her head and took a cautious step towards the edge of the pond, which lay in the center of the pasture. The animal before her, a cinnamon-colored stag, stood motionless. She wished to gape openly, to move towards him and stroke his flawless coat, fondle his large ears, touch his immense antlers and follow him wherever he would lead her. She felt somehow connected to the creature, and wanted to be nearer to him. Instead, for fear of frightening the animal, she tore her gaze from his form and advanced another step, gliding smoothly towards the edge of the ice.

The deer looked as though he was preparing to bound away, but he could not seem to decide whether or not to stay or go. He stood, frozen for a few more moments of indecision, swaying one way as if to say "I will leave," and the other way as if to say "I will go." Samantha, trying to avoid looking at the creature and afraid to move any further in his direction, clicked the blade of her ice-skate on the ice. The deer turned his delicate head and shook his antlers vigorously at her. The one small crime she had committed, the clicking of her ice-skate blade, had led him to a decision. He pivoted towards the woods, springing over the field's rear gate. Trotting a few graceful, prancing steps, he halted and swung around to face her, willing her towards him, pawing the ground for emphasis. She knew she was to go with him, follow him. He wanted to take her somewhere, and the connection she felt to him was strong. She ripped her focus away, briefly reminding the panicking part of her, the part of her that said the buck would not stay, that she would return soon. If she was wrong, the deer would have fled by the time she got back and she could forget she had ever seen him, or even pretend he had been a figment of her infamous wild imagination.

Samantha and the Stag meeting a stag
She knew she was to go with him, follow him

Purposefully, she strode up to the fence on the opposite edge of the pond enclosure, climbing over it and stepping into her paddock. A spotted pony with mischief in his eyes stared at her plaintively. He was looking for food or a treat and saw no reason he should be subtle about his begging. Sam ignored him and gathered a bridle and riding hat off hooks in the small stable. She put the bridle on, fastening the straps and buckles with the ease of many years of practice. Then she fed the pony a sugar cube from her slushy pocket. He eyed the sugar analytically, and extracted it from her palm. Apparently he did not think highly of wet sugar. Carefully, she walked him to the place she had last seen the stag. There he was, holding his head gallantly, as if posing for a photograph he had waited ages to have taken. Sam got as close as she dared and swiftly mounted her pony.

This was enough to startle the buck and off he dashed, leaving a trail behind him as he made his way through the stiff grasses of winter. Sam felt an urge she could not control. She had to follow him! The connection she felt to the animal strained, and, with a wave of her arms, Samantha and her pony were chasing after him. They hightailed it over the field fence and raced across the next pasture, following the trail the stag left. Astonishingly, the buck allowed the pair to get increasingly closer. Soon they were inching up alongside him, getting nearer every second. Finally, when they were running nose to nose, the deer distanced himself slightly. Samantha took the hint. The deer did want his own margin of personal space, but did want them to follow him. Sam understood and continued along peaceably behind him. She had a creeping sensation, however, that the comfortable pace wouldn't last long.

Soon enough, she found her unpleasant assumption to be true. She, the pony, and the buck were headed directly for a frozen stream. This posed great danger for the threesome. The stream could not be trusted with their weight! Obviously the deer did not see it, and even with much patience and an enormous amount of coaxing, her pony refused to slow. She wanted to explain the danger, but couldn't! Her pony was dipping into a peril he could not see, a peril he could not even acknowledge, as he didn't know it was there! In a panic, Sam yanked on the reins, snapping them from side to side. With her pony's attention captured, she leaned back and dragged her reins above her head, lifting her pony into a half-rear; the only sensible way to help him recover his footing and keep him out of trouble. The buck, seeing the stream only as he came upon it, made a scrambling effort to stop but failed. His front legs slid off the bank and onto the surface that was the frozen creek. His haunches groped through the snow, searching for a grip, but, over all of the protests of the rest of his body, momentum slid his rear onto the ice as well. Now he had to muster all his strength and any balance he possessed to stand. With a strangling grunt and a heave he was on all fours once more.

Before Sam could take note of what was happening, the stag was racing along the creek. With much splaying of his legs and many close calls, the buck made his way along the stream, somehow managing to stay upright. The girl, astonished at these proceedings, sprang into action. She snapped her reins from left to right and achieved a quicker pace. The clever pony, although wary for their safety was curious. A mischievous ripple sped through his body and, disregarding the instructions he had been given earlier, which mentioned none of what he was about to do, he leapt off the bank of the stream. The pony landed, spinning and falling onto one side. However, he regained his balance quickly and swiftly pushed himself along to catch up with the buck.

Samantha found herself in a fury. She was appalled at her pony's lack of obedience, which had put them in a tight spot and sacrificed their safety. She was just sorting out her plan of action, a way to discipline her pony, when her thoughts were interrupted. Under her the ice was moaning and groaning. What would have been a deep pool, had it not been frozen, was cracking beneath their feet. With a tremendous creak the ice started to toss them from one side to the other, throwing them terribly off balance. The girl shrieked in panic and tried desperately to grasp her bearings. Her pony, sensing her indecision, bounded towards the stream's edge and sailed onto the ground. The deer followed effortlessly behind them, showing off his astounding ability for jumping.

Now that they were safe, the girl glanced back at what had been a solid surface under them only seconds ago. A gray torrent of water was rushing its way along the creek, straining its way over rocks and under branches to reach the faraway place where its journey would come to an end. Sam cringed and turned from the sight, unable to watch or think about what could have happened to them had they been stolen by that stream's powerful current. Instead of lingering, Samantha followed the rather bedraggled deer as he led his way from the stream. Encouraged by the buck's fearless stride, the girl and pony were led along for a while more, chasing the stag enough to dry them from their wet encounter. They tumbled along through the underbrush, plunging over logs and leaving a trail of eddying autumn leaves behind them. Samantha's whoops echoed through the forest. Finally, the buck showed signs of slowing. Although neither the pony nor his rider noticed the stag's subtle signs between gallop and canter, they did notice when he slowed until they themselves had to downgrade their pace. Suddenly, they were halted altogether, the deer having stopped to perch on his hooves like he was preparing to take flight. He was peering at something Samantha failed to see, and his ears were pricked towards the woods that lay ahead.

Samantha and the Stag finding an open field
Samantha and her pony sidled nearer to the buck just enough to see what he saw

Samantha and her pony sidled nearer to the buck, just enough to see what he saw. When they did, she and the pony stopped, awed to a halt by the magnificent sight. In front of them was a large clearing. A slope led to a stand of pines that in turn spread from the far end of the place all the way around. The area, filled by the pines with the scent of winter, a clear, crisp fragrance, was a long oval. A large pond lay at its center. The entire clearing was covered in a glittering layer of snow Samantha had not noticed falling. Off to one side was a pointed stone that gracefully left the ground to come to a point at its peak. She entered the beautiful space, trudging up the perfect sledding hill at one end so she would have the full view of the spot. She wished only to see its beauty fully, to admire the spot in its glorious entirety.

Having forgotten the deer, she glanced over to where she had last seen him. To her great surprise, the stag had vanished! She turned around as far as she could, searching for his sleek form, but finding it nowhere. Samantha and her pony walked down the hill, rather bewildered at the sudden disappearance of the buck. They walked down the opposite side from which they had come, stumping past the large pointed stone.

Something on the rock caught her eye, a series of markings scratched into letters. She slid off her pony to read the words engraved so artfully. "You have completed a small journey not many are chosen for. It has been hard but enjoyable as well. If no one claims this place for theirs, it is yours." Samantha looked around. In a gesture that seemed rather pointless but meaningful, she opened her arms; "Does anyone claim this spot for their own?" She laughed at her own silliness, but quieted when the wind blew in what sounded very much like "No." Fluidly hopping on her pony's back, Sam and he raced around the large place once. It was theirs now, and deservedly so. She was determined to make sure all creatures that resided in these woods knew it. Halting at the entrance to this place, this place that was now hers, she pondered all the wonderful moments she would have in this place.

It would be her place to think, a place to be calm, a place to play and a place to rest. She and her friends would sled down the hill, skate and swim on the pond, and find all the adventures they could in this spot. She let out a whoop and turned towards the path home. Before charging away, the girl glanced back to her secret haven, her sanctuary. Where the pointed stone had been moments before, she saw a finely carved stag. Samantha smiled.

Samantha and the Stag Laura Booth
Laura Booth, 11
Coatesville, Pennsylvania

Samantha and the Stag Jasmin Bowers
Jasmin Bowers, 13
Washburn, Wisconsin