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Every elf is assigned a shadow at their coming-of-age ceremony. A shadow is an animal that protects its elf. The pair stays together for the entire life of the elf.
My ceremony was at sunrise. I called the new shadows. There was a colorful peacock, a green parrot, a golden retriever, and a very fury rabbit. I almost didn’t notice the fifth shadow, a weak-looking rat terrier dog. It wasn’t much bigger than a puppy. Its tail was between its legs and his head pointed to the ground. I hoped I wouldn’t get it.
The wind picked up. Mother Nature, though invisible to us, was here. She would pick my shadow. The elves leaned forward in anticipation. Everyone loved to watch the choosing.
“Helena,” Mother Nature announced, “you are of age. So, I present, Holly, as your shadow. May you stay together as long as you live. Good luck to you both.”
Everyone was curious. Which would step forward? There was a pause and the pitiful-looking rat terrier shuffled forward. My shoulders fell with my hopes. I tried to hide my disappointment, but failed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mother frown and shake her head. My behavior was disgraceful. I faked a smile and thanked Mother Nature. She left.
The elves dispersed to their responsibilities. My family remained. Mother asked why I wasn’t thankful for my shadow. I pointed out that this dog wouldn’t be able to protect me. She reminded me not to judge a tree by its bark.
After the ceremony, it was custom to spend some time in solitary to connect even more with nature and their shadow. I traveled north and it my journey I ran into a cliff. I scaled it quickly with grace. Holly, on the other hand, jumped clumsily from ledge to ledge. Her toenails were long and always made a clicking noise when she walked. That wouldn’t help protect me.
How did she become a shadow? She makes a lot of noise, is too small to fight, and can’t hide easily, being white with black spots. It doesn’t make sense to have such bad qualities in a shadow.
There were times I tried to get away from Holly. I knew it was wrong, but sometimes I got frustrated with her. It was during one of those times that my foot snagged on a twisted root and I fell. I rolled to my back and looked at my ankle. Just a minor sprain, nothing too serious. I wasn’t in any danger, until I heard a low growl. Just a few feet away was a huge bear standing on its hind legs. It was twice my height. The bear growled again. It was then that I noticed a small bear cub behind me. I had fallen between a mother and her cub!
I remained still while saying in the animal language, “Sorry, this was an accident. I didn’t mean to separate you from your cub. If you would just give me time to get up and leave.”
The bear growled louder. She seemed angrier than before. I repeated my message in case I had mispronounced anything, but she growled again. This bear was truly wild; she wouldn’t understand the animal language. I tried the cub, but he was also truly wild.
As a last resort, I played dead. The bear wasn’t fooled. She charged in my direction, ready to attack. I closed my eyes and prayed it would end quickly. Then I heard a familiar clicking and barking coming closer.
I kept my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see this. There were snarls and barks. I could imagine the fight through my closed eyes. It was bad and got worse as I heard a high-pitched bark. My shadow was hurt and now the bear would come after me. I was going to die.
I could feel the bear’s breath on my face as Holly barked. I opened one eye to see the bear move to look in the other direction. I seized the opportunity to roll into the nearby bushes, putting me out of harm’s way. The cub ran to his mother. She gave Holly one final swing, sending her flying, before disappearing into the woods with her cub.
I managed to drag myself over to Holly. She was on one side, legs extended. Her breathing was shallow, but she looked at me to see if I was all right. Then she closed her eyes and put down her head.
“No!” I shouted “Don’t die! I need you.” The tears started to roll down my face. I put my head next to her.
Suddenly the wind blew harder. I lifted my head. “Mother Nature?”
Another breeze. This time it was directed at Holly. She was lifted off the ground. It was taking her away. I didn’t want her to leave.
Mother Nature read my thoughts. “Don’t worry. Holly isn’t going anywhere. I just forgot to give her immortality.”
“Shadows are immortal?”
“Only as immortal as you are my dear, Helena,” Mother Nature replied. “And elves live for a long time. There, finished. Now, Holly, I believe you have a job to do.”
My shadow was now on her paws. There was no evidence of her injury and her breathing was normal. In fact, she didn’t look weak or small, like before. She walked over and licked my ankle. It stung momentarily, but then all the pain disappeared. I was able to stand up.
Mother Nature was pleased; I could tell by the patches of wildflowers that were sprouting. “I think you two should stick together now. This forest is filled with truly wild animals.” Then her tone became sterner. “There is a reason we call them shadows. They should be with you all the time. Leaving makes you vulnerable. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do. I used to doubt Holly, but I know better now. We’re a team and I like that.” Holly’s short stubby tail started to wag.