Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Magic Ball

Adapted by Joan Stockbridge
From an Argentine tale

Once there was a dreadful witch who lived on a mountaintop where the winds howled and the snow blew. She loved cold and frost and hated all living things. No matter how much she had to eat, she was always hungry, and her favorite meal was the human heart.

The people of that land were terrified of the witch because their children kept disappearing. No one knew why, but they thought it had to do with the witch. And they were right.

Magic Ball

You see the witch had a ball that glimmered and glistened and looked prettier than any of the ordinary things in that land. When the witch saw children wandering from their homes, she'd secretly leave the ball somewhere the children would see it. Children who saw the ball were filled with desire. They wanted to touch it and hold it, but as soon as they got close, the ball would drift away like a soap bubble. The ball was magic. Whoever chased it would lose all sense of time. They would forget everyone and everything they loved. They would feel no hunger or cold. Nothing would matter except getting that ball.

That was just what happened one day to a a brother and sister, who had gone to check on the goats. As Sister trudged up the mountain, she saw something shining beneath a berry bush. "OHHH," she said, drawing near to the ball. Everything else left her mind. She forgot about the goats. She forgot about her brother. All that mattered was the ball, the beautiful, shimmering ball. Soon she was chasing it as it drifted across the steppes. Every time Sister got close, the ball drifted a little further off.

Fortunately Brother looked up and saw Sister. "Where are you going?" he shouted, but she couldn't hear. Her ears were filled with the song the ball was singing. Brother took off after Sister. He followed her day and night. He never gave up, though she didn't hear him, didn't see him. She didn't know he was there.

witch mountain snow cold wind

Finally, the ball came to a stop on the witch's mountain. "Ahh," Sister said, stretching out her arms and picking up the ball. Pop. The ball burst like a bubble. All at once the world came crashing in on Sister. "Where am I?" she said, wrapping her skinny arms around herself. "I'm cold." She began to cry.

Brother rushed up. "I've been chasing you for days," he said.

"What happened?" Sister sobbed.

"You were chasing the witch's ball," Brother said. "You forgot everything else. You didn't even hear me when I called."

"I'm so sorry," sister said, .

"We have to get you out of the cold" Brother said.

He found a tiny cave, out of the wind, and let Sister crawl in. "After you rest, we'll find our way home." Brother sat outside the cave. He knew it would be dangerous to sleep. He knew he should keep watch, but he was tired. At first he propped his eyes open with his fingers, but he couldn't stay awake. He fell into an exhausted sleep.

Inside the cave, Sister was dreaming she was at home next to a warm fire. Her mother was singing as she brushed her hair. Sister felt the brush sliding through her long, silky hair. But, the brush was getting tangled. "Ouch," Sister said, waking up. She tried to shake her head, but she couldn't.

While Sister slept, the witch had bound her hair into the mountain, woven it tight into the rock. "Brother!" she cried.

Brother leapt up. He raced for Sister, but couldn't get through. The witch had placed an invisible wall between them. Brother threw himself against the barrier, but he was driven back. He tried to climb up, but he could find no way over. He tried to find his way around the sides, but he could find no end. He sank down and looked at Sister, pinned into the mountain, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Just then, a soft whooing sound Overhead he saw the snowy wings of an owl, the witch's pet. "Soon we will have them," the owl hooted. "They will freeze to death."

"So long as they do not find fire," the witch whispered from a snowy ledge, her beaked nose sharp in the moonlight. And then the pair disappeared.

"Brother," Sister called, sharply. "Did you hear what the witch said?" " We have to get fire!"

"How?" Brother despaired.

"You must leave me and go down onto the plain."

"I can't leave you!"

"You must," Sister said. "Otherwise there's no hope."

So Brother stumbled to his feet and set off as fast as his legs could carry him. He was tired, but the thought of Sister's eyes gave him strength. He had only walked a few minutes when a strong condor flew overhead. The bird seemed to beckon him on. "It's a sign," he thought, and followed the bird.

The bird led him to a stone cottage. Brother knocked, but there was no answer. He called, but there was no response. In that empty country, it was the custom for travelers to respectfully enter a home in time of need, so Brother went in. He built up the fire, swept the floor, brought in fresh wood and water. When he put a load of logs down next to the fireplace, he was surprised to see an old man sitting in a chair.

"I know why you're here," the old man said. "You need fire to rescue your sister from the witch."

"How did you know?" Brother asked.

"I know the witch's ways," the old man said. "Hurry. There's not much time before she freezes to death."

The old man whistled and a large flamingo with long legs and a long beak entered the house. The old man stuck a stick into the fire, lit it, and handed it to the bird.

"Fly, my beauty," the old man said, "and make haste, for a human life is at stake." The bird flew away, and Brother raced after.

Together the two hurried back across the dark plains. As the bird flew, the stick burned. It burned faster and faster, as the flames came closer and closer to the bird's beak. Still the flamingo held on, flying as fast as he had ever flown; though the heat was searing his feathers and charring his beak. At last they arrived at the witch's mountain. Brother dropped to his knees and frantically scratched through the snow, until he gathered a small pile of grasses and sticks. The flamingo opened his beak and dropped the fiery stick onto the pile. The tinder caught fire.

Brother tended the small fire carefully, blowing on the tiny flames, feeding them with dried twigs. The fire blazed high. until there was a huge explosion. The witch's mountain blew apart and the spell was broken. The icy witch's power was gone. She was nothing any longer.

Sister rushed into Brother's arms. "Thank you. Thank you." Sister turned to the flamingo. Its feathers were glowing from the heat of the fire. To this day the flamingo is rosy pink

"Thank you for your sacrifice. and your courage." She placed her cold hands on the bird's singed breast, and the fiery heat drained away.

And so it was that Sister, with the help of Brother , the old man and the flamingo, broke the witch's spell. After she and Brother rested, they found their way home. They told the villagers that the witch would never again lure children away. In time, Brother and Sister both married, built homes next to each other, and had many children. They lived long and well, and were loved by all, for they had driven the witch and her magic ball out of the land.


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