The Journey Begins

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
September/October 2007

Anna Hirtes

STORIES OF THE UNICORNS
BOOK ONE

When God created the earth, he asked Adam in the Garden of Eden to name the animals. When Adam picked the unicorn to name first, God reached down and touched the unicorn’s horn. This is a sign that unicorns are blessed above all other creatures.

—Nancy Hathaway, Unicorn

Shelly looked longingly at the big jugs of water being sold in the shops scattered along the dusty street.

“Hey, hey, hey, girlie! Get off’ the road! You’re blocking it with your over-large body!” The voice laughed heartily Shelly sighed. They were the rich boys and newspaper boys. Their favorite activity was to tease Shelly They were trying to provoke her to come and hit them. Then Shelly would be arrested and severely punished by the government.

Shelly flicked her long, red, wavy hair out of her face. It fell far past her waist, and many folks thought it greatly needed cutting. Her big, green eyes swept the street floor, searching constantly for dropped or forgotten coins. The nine-year-old girl pushed her small body through the crowds. She desperately wished it was Christmas, her birthday It was the only day of the year when she allowed herself to buy a feast.

The boys were partly right about her. Shelly was a beggar girl and was extremely scarce of money.

The Journey Begins girl and a unicorn

The stream opened into a little pool. Curiously, it was silvery

The cold evening wind blew her dress and hair. Shelly could see her wispy clouds of breath and decided to head back to her alleyway. When she at last reached her beloved alley, Shelly immediately curled up in her few blankets. One of them had been hers ever since she could remember. It was silvery blue with a single unicorn embroidered in the middle. The thick blanket felt a thousand times better than silk. Shelly wouldn’t, couldn’t ever part with it.

Shelly wrapped herself in that special possession and the other thin brown sheets she owned. Her box stood overhead, weather-beaten and dirty. It was so large, Shelly was sure it once held a bed frame. An eventful sleep took over Shelly.

First she dreamed she was walking in a field of unicorns. The earth turned blacker than black and colder than cold. A black-hooded figure loomed toward Shelly through the magnificently never-ending darkness. Shelly backed away and tripped over her own unsteady feet. The figure of darkness (at least that’s what Shelly thought it was) gracefully curved its body downward toward Shelly’s face. At that precise moment, the dreaming girl woke up, breathing hard and sweating. “It was just a dream,” she told herself firmly, “just an old dream. It’s not hurting anyone, and it’s not real.” Shelly tried to sound confident, but her voice trembled slightly.

Big sign of madness, talking to your own head,” stated a newspaper boy by the name of Frederick Afintger, who was passing. He smirked. Shelly ignored him.

Dawn was Shelly’s favorite time of day. Most people were still snug in bed. No one shot insults at her, she was free of owners of stalls and shops shouting at her to get away from their selling areas. Shelly was sick of that. Now the girl grabbed the last of her bread loaf and headed for the stream.

It was warm, especially for this time of day Shelly finally reached the cold, playful stream that flowed around the edge of the enchanted place, Magic Forest. The beggar girl took a long, refreshing drink from the creek. When Shelly finished munching on her bread loaf, she waded into the water. The deepest place reached up to her knees. Shelly stared absentmindedly at the horizon. The sun was still determined to climb over the mountain. The sun had almost accomplished that goal, which it repeated every morning. Shelly marched back to the bank and dried herself off. Suddenly, she glimpsed a flash of white in the trees. Shelly started. Then she saw it again, further this time.

“Hello?” Shelly called out. “Anybody there?” No answer. Shelly entered the Magic Forest and sprinted toward the white. She ran until she could run no more. A stitch had arisen in Shelly’s side and her breathing was fast and hard.

She had arrived in a clearing. A small, lush apple tree stood in the corner, its fruits swaying slightly in the breeze. The very same creek Shelly had earlier waded in flowed before her. The stream opened into a little pool. Curiously, it was silvery. It must come from here and go around the wood, Shelly thought to herself. Shelly sighed heavily for no particular reason and headed for the apple tree.

She heard a hiss and tripped over a tree root, or she thought it was a tree root. Fangs sank into her leg and poison shot through her body. Hooves pounding like thunder, and everything went black.

Everything was blurry and Shelly could hear a faint neighing sound. With difficulty, she sat up and slowly looked around. There, trotting along the path toward her, was a unicorn!

He had a long, flowing, milky-white mane, tail, and forelock. His eyes were like crystals, glowing in the bright sunlight. His hooves were cloven like a goat, and the fur was silky. It was beautifully white. He came over to her. Shelly didn’t know how to feel. The unicorn started to speak in a strange language. Oddly, Shelly could understand it.

“Hello, my name is Magic Star. What is your name?” the unicorn asked.

Shelly replied shakily, “My name is Shelly. I am an orphan.” For a moment, Shelly thought she saw an excited look on Magic Star’s face. But when she blinked, it was once again replaced by a curious expression.

“What happened to me? Are you really a unicorn? Why are you here? Where are we? Was that a snake? If it was, did you kill it? Do you live here? Is this forest dangerous? Why is that pool silvery…?” It all came pouring out before Shelly could stop herself.

“Slow down, slow down! I can’t possibly answer all those questions at once!” Magic Star exclaimed. “I will answer each one the best I can. I am a real unicorn and that was a snake that attacked you. A rattlesnake. I did not kill it. I terrified it so it would stay away from you. This place is called the Unicorn Clearing, in the heart of Magic Forest. I stay here sometimes. This forest can be dangerous at times, but you are safe with me. That pool is silvery because it is a unicorn pool. I am here because I sensed danger. Does that answer all of your questions?”

Shelly nodded. She tried to stand, but she collapsed back down at the pain in her leg.

“Does it hurt?” Magic Star asked.

“Very much,” Shelly replied.

“Then I will heal it,” Magic Star told Shelly, lowering his horn toward the snakebite. Before Shelly could say a word, the bite was gone.

“Thank you!” said Shelly gratefully. Suddenly, they heard hoofbeats loud and close.

“On my back!” Magic Star demanded. He quickly sunk down on his knees and Shelly scrambled on the silky white back. Magic Star leapt easily over the unicorn pool and bolted into the depths of the Magic Forest. After what seemed like hours, the breathless unicorn stopped.

Shelly dismounted and looked around. They had arrived in another clearing, except there were berry bushes here and no pool, only a lively little stream. Shelly turned back to Magic Star. She opened her mouth to speak, but Magic Star started first.

The Journey Begins identical girls

“That was the king’s men. They are after me.” Shelly once again nodded. Magic Star continued, “It is not very safe for me here, but luckily I am faster than their horses.” He look around the clearing, as if expecting the king’s men to jump out of the trees and ambush at any moment.

Suddenly, Magic Star dashed into a standing position. Shelly had heard a rustle in the forest and supposed Magic Star must have, too.

“Get behind me!” Magic Star stated. “No, wait,” Shelly replied firmly. The unicorn gave her an annoyed look, but she ignored it. Shelly continued to move cautiously toward the trees. She passed a big brown oak tree.

Shelly looked on the other side, and her mouth fell open in shock. There, standing before her, was a girl. And she wasn’t just any girl. Shelly and she were identical. They both had those big green eyes, long red wavy hair, and everything else. The two girls were even built the same. No difference in their appearance was visible.

“Who are you?” they said in unison. Both smiled in spite of themselves.

“My name is Shelly” Shelly answered.

The mysterious girl responded, “My name is Elizabeth. I’m very pleased to meet you, Shelly.” She held out a hand identical to Shelly’s.

“I am pleased to meet you too, Elizabeth,” Shelly replied, taking the hand and shaking it. At that moment, Magic Star happened to come into the forest where they were.

“There you are… “He stopped in midsentence at the sight of Elizabeth. “Oh, great,” he said sarcastically under his breath. “This wasn’t the plan!”

Elizabeth asked, “What did you say?” She tried to hide her pleasure at meeting a unicorn, but was doing a very poor job of it.

“Nothing,” Magic Star answered sheepishly. Elizabeth shrugged and started toward the clearing.

When she saw no one was coming with her, she turned around and said, “Well, are you coming?” Shelly and Magic Star followed the lively Elizabeth. Elizabeth started humming a tune. Girl and unicorn headed back to the clearing together. Reader, this is how the great journey began.

The Journey Begins Anna Hirtes

Anna Hirtes, 9
Basking Ridge, New Jersey

The Journey Begins Betsy Hochman

Betsy Hochman,13
Lansdale, Pennsylvania

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