I followed Lily down onto the slope before finally stopping at the end of the long-winded sidewalk. The town opened to a dearth of life despite the festive decoration on the homes.
“Seems like something’s up.” I asked Lily. She had gotten tired of skipping and was now briskly walking as she scanned her eyes over each home.
“You don’t know?”
“I’m not from around here. I got into town recently, haven’t learned much.”All the homes were draped with lights. Coils of wire wrapped around the streetlights, encasing it in silver. Scraps of wood and nails littered lawns. Some doors were strewn open, with an occasion peek from those carrying hardwood and hammers. It was as if they were heralding the arrival of some kind of mythical beast. Though it wasn’t that there were any known humans that did worship divines. And even if they did, I wouldn’t interfere in the affairs of the humans. I was only here to collect shattered dreams.
“The spring-time festival is happening this year again!” Lily splayed her arms out. Her energy bled into her smile. Her eyes still avoided mine, though she tried her best. The winds helped keep her chin up.
“Doesn’t sound like any holiday I know.” Lily nodded and hummed slightly with her steps. Distant chatter began to fill the air between us.
“It’s a tradition in our town.” She smiled with her eyes as she tethered. The clouds had all ran, leaving the sun to bathe us in a slow warmth.
“Everyone looks forward to it every year. It’s our own little Christmas.” I smiled. She responded with her own. As her steps grew, she began fluttering around me. Her hair twirled around her body, wrapping around her waist. When she stopped, her hair uncurled, blowing in the short of the gust that followed. The sound of crashing wood resounded in the air.
“This part of town is where we hold the Valley Maiden. She’s going to sit on a stage and we’ll carry her down into the main part of town.”
“Valley Maiden?” Other children ran about in their lawns with ornate red and blue dresses half on. Their parents ran after them.
“My mother used to tell me all about it! It was–” Lily scrunched her mouth and her eyes narrowed in focus. She stopped dead with a blank stare. Her arms crossed gradually. Just as I was about to speak, her face lit up and she looked up at me with a glint in her eyes.
“The spring-time festival is when we hold the Valley Maiden and bring her across town.” She started in a recital. “The Valley Maiden is supposed to bring us a great year of rain. She’s like a god to us, and we celebrate by giving her a front row seat to our town! We try our best to please the Valley Maiden with the spring-time festival.” As she finished her mechanical speech, she let out a smile. The town grew full as we continued to the ends of the sidewalk. People were rushing on by with heavy hands. Their heavy steps rung in the air. Wafts of sweat twirled around us. A man smoked at his porch, a cold yellow beverage lowering into his mouth. Though none had stopped to peer at us. Some even glared away.
“The Valley Maiden is sometimes played by one of the girls in the town, but we didn’t have any candidates this year, so we’re bringing out the statue again. At least, that’s what my sister said. I haven’t seen anything other than the statue.” Her steps were elastic. I couldn’t count her rhythm.
“What a forgiving maiden she is if she’s that lax on rules.”
“I’m sure she’ll love the statue! It’s really nice this year too!” Cheers ran in the air as a group of people hoisted up a sign onto a booth.
“Must be lucky having such a benevolent maiden on your side.” I smiled for her.
“But she wasn’t always on our side.” Her voice rung in the air. She stopped to watch a man hanging lights over his roof.
“My mother said that this town used to be quieter. She said that this place was full of trees, a forest.”
“That’s how most places used to be before we came around.” I knew only so much of human history, though it seemed to be enough.
“We used to live in a valley! Or at least, the people before us.” Her expression gloomed for a moment. Her eyes wandered to the man’s yard. The grass danced for us. It’s dew glistening from a morning’s shower.
“One day in the valley, all life was beginning to dry. So everyone had to move out. But the Valley Maiden came down one day and brought rain. It took her three days and three nights before everyone came back to the valley.”
“Sounds like an old legend. Maybe a folktale.” We were drenched in shadow for a moment as we passed by a sidewalk filled with trees.
“My mother said that her mother told her the same story. My teachers always tell it to me around this time too. But no one can tell it like my mother!” She brought her arms out and began gliding in the soft winds.
“And is your family doing anything for this festival? From the sounds of it you guys should be ripe in the middle of this.” My words glided in the wind. And I knew they caught up to her. Though the only thing she did was smile.
“Our family isn’t doing anything this year,” she settled as she skipped alternating feet. I knew what her shattered dream consisted of. Though I at least had enough tact to try and get her to open up first. And if it came to be that I caused her more pain, then I would leave. I hadn’t the slightest interest in harming humans. I just wanted to talk.
“Family trouble?” I smiled lightly for her. In the end, how I talked to humans was something beyond what I understood.
“No trouble here!” Her voice chirped in a laugh.
“But we can’t do anything because we aren’t all here. It won’t be fun if the two of us are preparing for the festival.” The sidewalk eventually led to a crossroads. The path to our sides looped back onto the main path the Valley-Maiden would take. Lily stopped here. Rows of homes void of decorations laid on the looped-paths. If we continued to walk forward, we would be heading elsewhere all together. Lily took in a breath, found the nearest rock and launched it into the air. It landed all the way forward.
“I know a park nearby we can go to!” She zipped on by without looking at her crossing. I followed her through a thicket. Loose branches reached for our faces. Leveled down dirt eroded in our steps, and squirrels skittered in our stampeding. The sun could barely find us. We broke through without much query. A small clearing opened up within the thickets. A bench, and a swing set sat with the sun’s watch. She ran towards the slides.
“You know your way around this place. You like this town?”
“I grew up here. I can’t help but to love the town I grew up in.” Her voice only made it to me through the winds.
“And what about the festival? Don’t you want to celebrate?” She slid down the silver slope and planted onto the dirt below.
“I really wish I could, but I have to wait for my mother and father.” She kicked the tips of her shoes into the dirt, denting the earth. Her hair sat mellow on her back.
“You make it sound as if they aren’t here.”
“They flew.” The winds drafted up beneath our feet. The grass beneath us plucked their way towards the sky. A flock of birds cut through the tops of trees, and Lily smiled. She smiled as her eyes began to water. Her feet stopped digging.
“At first it was only my mother but then my father had to fly as well. He said he needed to see mother. But they were gone for so long that I got worried. I asked my sister but she said that it would be too expensive to go there all at once.” I had nothing I could add.
Her dream was to fly. She sat upon an airplane, looking out into the orange afterglow of the sky. She was smiling, a photo of her family in hand. The clouds moved slowly in her dream. Though she never did make it to where she wanted to go. Her dream ended abruptly, with her in the sky, allowing her wings to glide forever.
“How long were they gone?” She sat on the edge of the slide, her feet kicking in pendulums.
“For over a year now.” The wind picked her voice up into my ears as they softly fell out of her mouth. Her hair was splayed onto the silver, blocking the glint of the sun.
“This must have been an awfully lonely year for you then. You must want to meet them again.”
“Of course!” She beamed, her voice rushing up against me.
“We’d have so much fun! We’d be able to go to the spring-time festival, eat all the candy apples, see all the stars, and we can all have dinner again. We’d sit in our living room at our round table. We’d all laugh about our day, talk about what we want to do tomorrow, and even think about the things we didn’t get to do together.” She smiled from one end of her face to the other, her eyes glittering in the sun. Without realizing it, she shifted her feet, fell onto the slide behind her. She held her head towards me, her eyes streaming. Her face contorted as she held in her words. I got up. I needed to. I wrapped my arms around her as she stilted her voice. I felt her hair on my face. It was smooth.
“But I know it won’t happen,” she finally said as her voice nestled in the wind. I had to strain to understand.
“My sister got a letter from father this morning. She said that he would be able to bring us to see mother. But mother won’t be there. He said that she won’t be able to see or hear me. He said that she won’t come back home.” I let my warmth wrap around her. She snuggled beneath my chest, her breathing pounded against me. I rubbed the back of her head in gentle strides. I didn’t want to tell her the truth. I wanted her to tell me.
“Your mother, is she still here?” She cleared her throat, her entire body shivering.
“She’s not. My father told me so. My sister won’t admit it. But I know what they mean. They think I won’t understand. It’s what happens when you fly. You become tired like mother, and you fall.” I let go of her. She rubbed her eyes and smiled.
“Do you want to fly, Summer?”
“If I could I would. I’d give anything to be that free. What about you?” She smiled and began back into town.
“I’d be too scared.”